Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Recent Birds

 I can't help but notice the birds wherever I go.  I figure the time I put into learning birds will serve me my whole life--even if I become sedentary when I'm old, I will still be able to look out the window and see what birds come by and imagine where they've come from. Above are some sandhill cranes in a meadow on the ranch. The reddish coloring comes from food they've eaten in iron-rich mud. Makes me wonder where they've been eating!

The kestrels are back in the yard this year. Last year they raised several young in one of our trees. Here's hoping they will again.

 While on our patio one morning, Desert Girl and I saw several new birds. First came this bird, which at first glance I thought was a vireo. After consulting the birding book, now I think it's a ruby-crowned kinglet. They spend their summers high up the mountain in the forests, so I was quite surprised to see it. But it is migration season, which is the season of surprises!

I heard this bird's chatter before I saw it: a Bullock's oriole. We have at least one nesting pair in the yard. They make a lot of noise and have really cool nests that hang from the branches and incorporate bailing twine, something we have a lot of around here. I love their flashes of bright color.

This is another common denizen of the yard--the yellow-rumped warbler. I think they probably have a nest in one of our trees, but I haven't found it yet.

If I want to see some water birds, I drive a few miles to a reservoir. On this particular day, a large flock of American white pelicans was hanging out.

With them was a group of gulls (California gulls?).

The contrast of the mountains and the desert and the water made for a nice photo.

Some mallards flew by.

A double-crested cormorant, another migratory bird, hung out on some rocks next to the water.

At the south end of the reservoir I found a mixed flock of ducks, including buffleheads, northern shovelers, and ring-necked ducks.

A group of coots appeared to be waiting as the ducks arrived.

On a nearby wetland, some American avocets took flight.

We're up to 33 backyard birds, with the addition last night of a hummingbird (species not known, but likely broad-tailed). We are definitely going to surpass last year's total of 34! Desert Boy doesn't seem super interested, but Desert Girl is quite interested. They learn so fast, I wish I had their capacity!

Hope you see some cool birds today.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Branding in the Rain

 It's May, which means it's the month of branding. Actually on our ranch we don't brand, but the calves are ear marked, banded (a form of castration), fly-tagged, and vaccinated. And it's a lot easier to say brand than all those other things!

May has turned out to be the month of rain here, which is so welcome after our dry winter. But it makes for some messy branding. I took the kids for a quick look on our way to Grandma's house, but they didn't want to get out in the rain, and I wanted to get a few photos, so  I left them in the van. The cowboys were just getting started.

The first calf roped was by one of our neighbors.

The calf was secured.

Then the crew came in and administered everything in less than a minute. The calf was released and it went back to its friends.

I am amazed at how talented some of these young cowboys are. They already are more skilled with a horse and rope than I ever will be.

The orange tag is the fly tag, which is so useful later in the summer.

A couple more cowboys roped calves.


Three stations were set up, so when three cowboys were holding tension on the calves, that meant the operation was going just right.

Watching the roping was fascinating. The timing is critical to get that rope around the calves' back legs. If you think about it, those back legs are only off the ground for a fraction of a second as the calf walks, so the rope has to be there just as the legs come up and then tighten at just the right moment otherwise the rope falls off and the calf walks away. There are easier ways to do the branding, but this is the way the cowboys prefer, as it gives them a chance to practice their skills.

Below is the overall view of the horses and cowboys keeping the calf at the station and the calves getting treated.

Everyone seemed to be handling the rain really well.
We had to go, so I couldn't stay longer. Later some of the ladies took a turn roping, and you can see that and more on Life on the Ranch blog.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Our Little Solar System is Restored!

 A year and a half ago the kids and I made a little solar system in the neighborhood. It was so neat to see the scale of the solar system over two and a half miles. Those outer gas planets sure are far apart!! It was also mind-blowing to me when I asked an astronomer where the end of the road would be and he said it would still be in our solar system, in the Oort cloud, a comet-forming area way far away from Planet Earth.

Unfortunately, last fall someone removed the further reaches of the solar system, Saturn to Makemake. (They missed Eris, which is easy to miss!) I had several people tell me we should redo the solar system, and eventually I found the time to find the boards, paint the background, paint the names, gather planets, have my husband cut the boards, and go hang everything up. On the "hang up" day, we decided we would go check on everything, and Desert Girl was the photographer for the day.

The sun, which to scale would be so huge would require a massive board that we don't have, is just partially represented. It's hanging in there, but is in need of a little TLC. Desert Girl also had fun photographing the nearby fish. I guess they would be called sunfish? Ha.

Okay, so do you know the order of the planets in our solar system? Without further ado, here they are:


Having fun with wire cutters
Pausing for a selfie


Ceres is a relatively new dwarf planet, found in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter

We'll see if Saturn's rings stay on better this time!


Pluto has a really fun ball for its representation (and a little on the large side, but we didn't have many options!). It's across from the Ranching Exhibit, so easy to check out.
Haumea
Makemake
We didn't quite make it out to Eris (well, it is so far away, and our spaceship was running low on fuel), so here's the photo from 2013.

And, oops, did you notice our mistake? We reversed Haumea and Makemake from last time, but it turns out we may be more accurate now, as Makemake's orbit is longer than Haumea's (310 years vs 285 years), according to this table. And Eris? Well, it takes 557 years to get around the sun once!

We hope this model solar system will encourage people to learn more about the bigger picture of where we live. I also find it a great place to ponder when I'm facing something difficult. As I travel from planet to planet, it helps put things in perspective. My problem is really, really tiny in the scope of things.

Great Basin National Park is offering astronomy programs every Saturday night, and once Memorial Day rolls around, the programs will be every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights. They are a great way to learn even more about the amazing world--no make that the amazing solar system/galaxy/universe.

By the way, the Little Solar System is open to additions. Want to put in a spaceship? How about a UFO? There's already a great comet. Add anything you like, this is a community project, open to making it better!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Desert Boy's Eighth Birthday

 Desert Boy recently turned eight, and we were blessed to have a beautiful day so we could hold the party outside. His friends came over for a simple lunch. Then it was time for the outdoor activities. First up: zipline! We just recently installed this, and it's a lot of fun.

Although it's a little intimidating the first time!

There was plenty to eat, including some mushy frosting perfect for smearing all over a face and hands.

We brought out Desert Boy's birthday cake...

…but the wind was too strong to light the candles. So Desert Boy had to make do with blowing out a match.

 Then it was on to more activities, including playing on the swingset and hide'n seek.

Some of the girls played ship on the hammock. They were on stormy seas, with sharks circling.

They started capsizing, which made for a perilous trip.

The next game was how many kids can you fit in a hot tub. They liked that one quite a lot. Sharks may or may not have been present.

The little kiddie pool was the spacious one. Ha!

The slip'n slide had them running and cooling off, then they'd get back in the hot tub to warm up.

In the evening we had family over for a BBQ.

It was low-key fun.

Desert Boy enjoyed all the attention.

And then things got charged up with a water fight. It wasn't just any little waterfight, this was a get soaked-to-the-skin waterfight.

Desert Girl wisely chose to put on her swimsuit.

And then proceeded to chase her cousin. It was a good day!
Happy Birthday, Desert Boy! It's been a fun eight years and I'm looking forward to lots more!
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